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On West Africa, Britain, and the West Indies in the Eighteenth Century

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Lecture for HIS 115A (Week Five) — An Overview of Dahomey, Benin, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Dear readers,

I have posted below a lecture I wrote for week six of my West African History course. The lecture is designed to take about 30 minutes to deliver. It is about the Kingdom of Dahomey in the precolonial period and the nation of Benin’s embrace of Transatlantic Slave Trade tourism in the modern era.

This lecture sets up a primary source lab that takes place immediately afterward. In this lab, students get into small groups and investigate copies of the Whydah Day Books from The National Archives in Kew, England. These are bi-monthly account books that record the activities of the English governor and factor resident at William’s Fort. Not only do these books show the activities of these administrators from the African Company of Merchants, but they provide insight into the lives of the Africans who interacted with the fort. This includes the so-called “Castle” or “Company Slaves,” the Dahomean linguist, the viceroy, the caboceers, and the king. The day books we are looking at date to the middle of the eighteenth century. The lecture is also designed to set up our seminar discussion on Thursday. We will participate in a large-group discussion about two articles. One is by Robin Law; it is called “Dahomey and the Slave Trade;” and it came out in The Journal of African History in 1986. It covers the historiography of Dahomey and discusses how that literature developed in tandem with contemporary debates about the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The second piece is by Ana Lucia Araujo; it is called “Welcome the Diaspora;” and it came out in Ethnologies in 2010. It explores the nation of Benin’s embrace of diaspora tourism since the 1990s. In discussing the Route of Slaves in Ouidah, it draws particular attention to the question of how peoples’ memory of the Transatlantic Slave Trade must share public space with other expressions of history and cultural heritage.

Enjoy!

Lecture 5 — Overview of the TAST in Dahomey (T, 2-12)

Lecture 5 — Overview of the TAST in Dahomey, with notes (T, 2-12)

Lecture for HIS 115A (Week Five) — An Overview of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Sierra Leone

Dear readers,

I have posted below a lecture I wrote for week five of my West African History course. The lecture is designed to take about 35 minutes to deliver. It sets up a primary source lab that takes place immediately afterward. In this lab, students get into small groups and investigate the introduction to Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle’s Polyglotta Africana. Koelle was a German missionary who traveled to the British Crown Colony of Sierra Leone and conducted a study of West African languages in 1854. Sierra Leone was the perfect place for Koelle to conduct his study because it was the site of Britain’s efforts to colonize “recaptive” or “liberated” Africans from Spanish and Portuguese slave ships on the west coast of the continent. In the 1800s, the British navy resettled people from all over West Africa and the greater British Empire in Sierra Leone. Once there, they began forming a new “ethnicity” known as the Krio. In the process of gathering and classifying information about the languages that contributed to this “ethnicity,” Koelle documented the stories of what he called his “informants.” In particular, he wrote about where they came from and how they entered the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Their stories are of primary interest to us as students of the trade. In addition to setting up the lab activity, the lecture also foreshadows a film we will watch on Thursday. The film is called Ghosts of Amistad, and it documents the efforts of researchers from the United States to trace the history of Mende warriors, like Sengbe Pieh, from the Gallinas coast in southern Sierra Leone. These warriors drew on the foundations of a male secret society, called the Poro, to stage a fight for their freedom in the Caribbean.

Enjoy!

Week 5 Lecture — Overview of the TAST in Sierra Leone (T, 2-5)

Week 5 Lecture — Overview of the TAST in Sierra Leone, with notes (T, 2-5)

Seeking Presenters for a Panel at the 2019 African Studies Association (ASA) Annual Conference

Dear readers,

The African Studies Association (ASA) has released their call for papers for this year’s annual conference. The conference theme is “Being, Belonging, and Becoming in Africa,” and it will take place in Boston from Wednesday, 20 November to Sunday, 24 November. See the link below for information about the meeting on the ASA’s website. This year, I am interested in proposing a panel that interrogates how and why people have chosen to write African History throughout time. I will present a paper on the writing of African History in the precolonial period, and I am looking for presenters who are interested in talking about the colonial and precolonial periods. The papers may offer general context on the writing of African History during these periods, or they might offer a specific case study that shows how and why people turned to writing African History. If you are interested in being a part of this panel, and you think that your work fits nicely with the panel’s goals, please send me a message and let me know. I would love to talk with you about whether we can make this happen. The deadline for panel submissions is March 15. All other information related to the conference can be found on the ASA’s website.

Thanks!

Link to the ASA Website’s Information on Annual Meetings

Lecture for HIS 115A (Week One) — An Introduction to West Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Dear readers,

This quarter I am posting lectures for my new class, “HIS 115A: West African History, the History and Memory of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” This allows anyone who wants to follow along with the lecture component of the class to do easily. It is also helpful for me because it creates an online archive of my lecture materials that I can easily access from a computer without a USB or external hard-drive. The lecture posted below is my longest lecture of the course. It is my introductory lecture on Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It is meant to give students some basic facts, themes, and context concerning the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its history in Africa. The information is designed as a way to set students up for their research papers. Each student must write a research paper on a specific region of West Africa during the era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and they must select their paper topics by the end of this week.  I gave this lecture to the class on Thursday, 10 January.  I have posted it below in two formats, with and without notes.

Thanks. Enjoy!

lecture 1 — introduction to the study of the tast in africa (r, 1-10)

lecture 1 — introduction to the study of the tast in africa (r, 1-10, with notes)

HIS 115A Starting Up This Week — Lecture Introducing Myself and the Class

Dear readers,

Winter Quarter at UC Davis begins next week! This means that I am starting to teach my new class, “HIS 115A: West African History, the History and Memory of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” I have decided to post all of my PowerPoint presentations here on TZR for anyone who would like to follow along with the lecture component of the course. This is also helpful for me because it creates an online archive of my lecture materials that I can easily access from a computer without a USB or external hard-drive. I am giving the short lecture below at our first meeting on Tuesday, January 8. I wrote this lecture at the suggestion of my friend, who thought that it would be a good idea to devote some time on the first day to introducing myself to the students. This presentation is meant to give students some background on why I became interested in the history of Atlantic Africa, why I decided to design and teach this course on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and how my current research in the PhD program at UC Davis intersects with my pedagogy. I have posted the lecture in two formats, with and without my notes.

Thanks. Enjoy!

introducing myself and the class (1-8)

introducing myself and the class (with notes, 1-8)

Introducing “HIS 115A: West African History. The History and Memory of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”

Dear readers,

I am thrilled to announce that over the summer I was approved to teach my new course at UC Davis this coming Winter Quarter. The course is officially designated as “HIS 115A: West African History.” It is a special topics course about “The History and Memory of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.” I could not be more excited to teach this course. This was the class that I designed during Fall Quarter, 2017, to satisfy requirements for my minor field in the PhD program here at Davis. I have amended the syllabus a bit because the original design was for a semester-long course and Davis only teaches in quarters. However, as of yesterday, the syllabus for the course is complete. I am sure that I will be making changes over the next couple of months but, nonetheless, I wanted to share the syllabus with you today. I have attached it below in PDF, along with a separate “Lab Schedule.” This shows the primary sources that I am considering assigning for our weekly lab exercises. If you or anyone you know are a UC Davis student and might be interested in taking the course, please sign up! Or if you are a student of African History who wants to offer some advice or criticism, please do not hesitate to reach out. I am always looking for ways to improve my classes and give my students the best experience possible. Finally, I have also used a copy of the course flier as the image for this post. I hope you like it. Enjoy!

HIS 115A Syllabus

HIS 115A Lab Schedule

HIS 115A Flier

Lecture: Introduction to Remembering the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Africa

Dear readers, this spring I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write a new guest lecture for HIS 15B, the second part of the survey course in African History here at UC Davis. Officially, the class is called “Africa Today: Colonization and Globalization since 1900.” The lecture that I wrote for the class is on Public Memory and Memorialization of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Please note, this is only an introduction to the topic. Also, you should notice that I did not devote any space or time to discussing the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I have explored that history in a previous lecture, and one of my central arguments here is that the public memory of the Transatlantic Slave Trade has a history of its own, apart from the history of the trade itself.

As you may know, one of my professional goals is to teach a course on the history of slave-trade memory and memorialization in Africa and the West. With that in mind, I have taken the opportunity to develop a lecture that could serve as a foundation for that course. In keeping with the message of TZR, I have decided to make that lecture public, as well as any future lectures that I make on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in a category called “The TAST Series.”

Thanks for reading. Enjoy!

Lecture on Remembering the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Africa (The TAST Series)

Note: The image featured in this post depicts a monument called the Door or No Return. This particular monument stands at the end of the Route of the Slaves in Ouidah, Benin. It was built as part of the Slaves Route project that began in 1994.

 

 

Course Materials for Minor in African History — HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Dear readers, as part of the PhD program here at UC Davis, students in their third year are required to complete a minor in an historical sub-field that is different from their major field. Since my major is officially American History, I chose to fulfill my minor in African History. Per the requirements of the program, I needed to design an undergraduate course in African History, complete with a syllabus and a justification essay explaining the choices I made in designing the class. I completed those materials last December and my minor adviser approved them shortly thereafter. Now, I would like to share those materials with you. Below I have included PDF versions of my course syllabus and justification essay for the class I created. The class is called “HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.” I have also included the full text of my justification essay in case you would like to read it in blog form rather than PDF. Please feel free to use these materials in your own course design if you would like.

Syllabus for HIS 116 — Minor in African History for TZR (12-15-17)

Justification Paper for HIS 116 — Minor in African History (12-15-17)


Justification Paper for HIS 116:

Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”

Introduction to the Course

The purpose of this justification paper is to explain the thought process behind my syllabus in African History. The syllabus is for a course entitled “HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” and it falls under the designation of Special Themes in African History. The course is an upper-division class that is designed to meet twice a week, once on Tuesdays and once on Thursdays. Although the class is specifically designated as a lecture course, it is designed to be a hybrid of lecture and seminar. I will lecture on Tuesdays about a general topic in the history of Atlantic Africa, and then the students will engage in group discussion on Thursdays about readings which pertain to that subject. A 15-minute reading quiz will precede each discussion to ensure that students are doing the reading and to give them a chance to formulate their thoughts beforehand. Most times the discussions will take place in small groups of about 5 students and sometimes they will take place in one large group. Overall, this is a reading intensive class. On average, students will be expected to read between 150 and 200 pages each week. With the exception of a few weeks, students will be reading both secondary and primary sources for each discussion.

Objectives of the Course

For the majority of this justification paper, I am going to walk the reader through my course calendar, discussing the choices that I have made for the weekly lectures and readings. Before I do that, however, I would like to offer some general thoughts on the objectives of the class. First, the class is based on the assumption that young people in the United States today have at least a vague idea that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was integral to the development of the Americas. They may not know that roughly 12.5 million people were forcibly transported from West and West-Central Africa to the Western Hemisphere from the first decade of the sixteenth century to the third quarter of the nineteenth century, but they probably understand that enslavement formed some part of their country’s historical foundations and, thus, influenced their society’s present multiculturalism. But what about the history of Africa itself? Do young people have an equal understanding for how the Transatlantic Slave Trade affected African History? How did the trade affect Africans who did not leave the continent? How did the trade affect the history of the African societies from which enslaved persons were taken? How did it affect the history of the African societies that facilitated the slave trade? Finally, how is the trade remembered in academic discourse and popular culture? Continue reading “Course Materials for Minor in African History — HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”

Lecture: Introduction to the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Africa

Dear readers, this winter I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to guest lecture for HIS 15A, the first part of the survey course in African History. Officially, the class was called “Africa to 1900: States and Societies, Slavery, and the Scramble.” The class met for lecture twice a week, and the professor designed it so that each week was based around a theme. Students would receive two lectures on that theme. The first was an overview of the subject and the second was a case study. I gave the overview lecture on the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade during week 6.

As you may know, one of my professional goals is to teach a course on the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Africa. With that in mind, I took the opportunity to develop a lecture that could serve as a foundation for that course. In keeping with the message of TZR, I have decided to make that lecture public, as well as any future lectures that I make on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in a category called “The TAST Series.”

Thanks for reading. Enjoy!

Lecture on The Transatlantic Slave Trade in Africa (The TAST Series)

Note: The image featured in this post comes from the “Introductory Maps” section of the website Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. It is called “Map 1: Overview of the Slave Trade Out of Africa, 1500-1900.”

Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Zanzibar and Mozambique

GWYN CAMPBELL. “The East African Slave Trade, 1861-1895: The ‘Southern’ Complex, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 22, no. 1 (1989): 1-26.

ABDUL SHERIFF.  Slaves, Spices, and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770-1873. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1987.

Introduction

The readings for this week are the second in a series of two case studies on specific regions of East Africa in the eighteenth century. East Africa is an area that includes Mozambique and the Great Lakes Region. Situated on the western Indian Ocean, this region corresponds to the present-day coasts of Mozambique, Tanzania, and southeastern Kenya, as well as Madagascar and various nearby islands like Comoros, Mayotte, Réunion, and Mauritius. The area also includes many hinterland regions of Eastern Africa, such as present-day Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. In the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the principal ports of Eastern Africa were Sofala in Mozambique and Zanzibar in Tanzania. These ports were occupied mainly by Swahili, Portuguese, Omani, and Indian traders. The readings assigned for this week are both secondary sources, one on south and one on north East Africa. The first is an article on slavery in late-nineteenth century Mozambique by Gwyn Campbell. The second is an historical survey by Adbul Sheriff entitled Slaves, Spices, and Ivory in Zanzibar.

Gwyn Campbell’s “The East African Slave Trade”

In his article, “The East African Slave Trade,” the historian Gwyn Campbell re-investigates the nineteenth-century history of what scholars often call the “southern” East African slave trade.[1] This slave trade took place on the coast and in the interior of present-day Mozambique from Kilwa southward. Campbell argues that slave-importing and exporting islands located in the western Indian Ocean, especially Madagascar, are “the ‘missing link’ in the history of East Africa in general and of the East African slave trade in particular.”[2] He observes that historians have appreciated the degrees to which some foreign markets have shaped the East African slave trade, such as those in the Persian Gulf and those in Cuba and Brazil before that export trade was closed around the 1850s. Nonetheless, historians have not fully appreciated the “trans-Mozambique Channel trade,” which flourished in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, carrying East Africans from modern-day Mozambique to burgeoning markets on Madagascar and then to its surrounding islands.[3] As a way to address this gap in the literature, Campbell positions Madagascar at the center of the history of the East African slave trade. He covers from the re-opening of the Merina Empire of Madagascar to foreign investment in 1861 to the French takeover of Madagascar in 1895.[4]

Campbell traces the history of the East African slave trade in the late-nineteenth century to a series of new “manpower” or “labor shortages” in the western Indian Ocean. French traders from the Mascarene islands addressed these labor shortages in their colonies by buying enslaved people from Swahili and Arab traders on the coast of Mozambique, and also by purchasing East African or Malagasy slaves from markets in Western Madagascar.[5] Likewise, the Merina Empire handled its own labor problems by importing and then often re-exporting East Africans from Mozambique, while also exporting certain peoples form the interior of Madagascar. Meanwhile, an entire cast of intermediaries emerged to facilitate Madagascar’s “two-way traffic in slaves.”[6] This cast included traders of Arab origin in Northwest Madagascar, called Antalaotra; traders of British-Indian origin in the same area, called Karany; and various kingdoms, republics, and private traders on the coast and interior of Madagascar. Examples of this last group are Sakalava and Bara chiefs, the Betsiriry and Antanosy slave communities, and independent Mascarene middlemen like the Samat and Rossier brothers, all of which generally worked in the southwest of the island.[7] Finally, Campbell adds to this diversity European, South African, and American traders working in the region.[8] Continue reading “Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Zanzibar and Mozambique”

Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Uganda

HOLLY HANSON. “Stolen People & Autonomous Chiefs in Nineteenth-Century Buganda: The Social Consequences of Non-Free Followers.” In Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle, 161-173. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.

MICHAEL W. TUCK. “Women’s Experiences of Enslavement & Slavery in Late Nineteenth- & Early Twentieth-Century Uganda.” In Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle, 174-188. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.

Introduction

The readings for this week are the first in a series of two case studies on specific regions of East Africa in the nineteenth century. East Africa is an area that includes Mozambique and the Great Lakes Region. Situated on the western Indian Ocean, this area corresponds to the present-day coasts of Mozambique, Tanzania, and southeastern Kenya, as well as Madagascar and various nearby islands like Comoros, Mayotte, Réunion, and Mauritius. The area also includes many hinterland regions of Eastern Africa, such as present-day Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. The readings assigned for this week are two selected chapters from an edited volume by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle entitled Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa. They are both about slavery in Uganda in the nineteenth century.

Hanson’s “Stolen People & Autonomous Chiefs in Nineteenth-Century Buganda”

In this piece, Hanson explores the social consequences of a new form of chiefship emerging in the Kingdom of Buganda, located in the present-day nation of Uganda. She explores this subject from its probable origins in the mid-eighteenth century under King Namugala to the early colonial period. This new form of chiefship was known as ekitongole in the singular and ebitongole in the plural. Essentially, these ebitongole are organized, specialized, and institutionalized groups of non-free war captives (read: slaves) that were acquired in Buganda’s wars of imperial expansion. These wars went on from about the late-seventeenth through the nineteenth century. The ebitongole were a way to organize the labor of war captives on new and unoccupied land. This form of labor organization was fundamentally different from the ways that labor had been structured previously. Rather than Baganda followers being named after chiefs or significant historical events, the ebitongole were named for the type of labor that they were expected to perform, whether that be clearing forests, hunting animals to protect local communities, making war, gathering ivory, growing provisions for the caravan trade, or engaging in some other form of work entirely.

Hanson argues that the ebitongole profoundly destabilized the Buganda Kingdom by breaking down the social order that had prevailed before their creation. The ebitongole challenged prior social structures in several key ways. First, chiefs had previously competed against one another to obtain followers, and they did so by appealing to the recognized prestige of the kabaka or Buganda King. Now, however, the chiefs did not have to compete for the kabaka’s authority since they had less of a need to obtain the allegiance of free followers. Likewise, the kabaka were no longer reliant on labor tribute from the chiefs because they had their own ebitongole. Meanwhile, the ebitongole undermined established traditions of gift exchange between the chiefs and the kabaka, and hurt the kabaka’s ability to maintain the kingdom’s balance of power through distributing land. The erosion of these reciprocal relationships between the kabaka and chiefs is epitomized by the high turnover rate of kabaka between 1670 and 1812, as well as the proliferation of new chiefs at the expense of those who traditionally held land. Lastly, since the rise of the ebitongole made Buganda chiefs less dependent on having free followers, they also eroded the status of free or ordinary Ganda citizens. Everyday people had less of an ability to leverage political allegiance to their social advantage. Continue reading “Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Uganda”

Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Bights of Benin and Biafra

G. UGO NWOKEJI. The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra: An African Society in the Atlantic World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

KRISTIN MANN. Chapter 1 of Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760-1900. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. Chapter 1 is called “The Rise of Lagos as an Atlantic Port, 1760-1851,” 23-50.

Introduction

The readings for this week are the last in a series of four case studies about specific regions of West Africa in the eighteenth century. This fourth case study is about the Eastern Bight of Benin and the Bight of Biafra. The entire Bight of Benin stretched from about the River Volta in the west to the River Nun in the east. In the eighteenth century, its eastern half included hinterland empires like Oyo and Benin and coastal towns like Porto Novo, Badagry, Lagos, Lekki, and Mahin. Meanwhile, the Bight of Biafra picked up where the Bight of Benin terminated. It stretched from roughly the Niger Delta eastward across present-day Nigeria and then south to Cape Lopez in modern-day Gabon. New Calabar and Bonny, located in the Niger Delta, and Old Calabar, located in the Cross Rivers Region, were just a few of its most heavily trafficked slave ports. Today, the combined area of the Eastern Bight of Benin and the Bight of Biafra encompasses the coastline of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea, as well as the northern half of Gabon. The readings assigned for this week are both secondary sources. The first is a chapter from the historian Kristin Mann’s book on precolonial Lagos, entitled Slavery and the Birth of an African City. The second is the historian G. Ugo Nwokeji’s 2010 monograph The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra.

Kristin Mann’s “The Rise of Lagos as an Atlantic Port, c. 1760-1851”

In her chapter, “The Rise of Lagos as an Atlantic Port,” Kristin Mann discusses the history of Lagos from 1760 to 1851.[1] The first date represents the decade in which European traders began visiting Lagos regularly, and the second date represents the British bombardment of Lagos, a watershed moment when British military forces helped the deposed monarch Akitoye retake the lagoon city from the Oba Kosoko. In this chapter, Mann provides a brief overview of Lagos’s history prior to the rise of the slave trade in the 1760s, outlines the dimensions of the slave trade throughout Lagos’s history, and then uses local oral traditions to recreate an indigenous narrative of the Kingdom of Lagos’s political history from roughly the reign of Akinsemoyin (1760-1775) to the reconquest by Akitoye with the help of the British in 1851. In the process, Mann shows how the Kingdom of Lagos “transformed its capital into an international port linking West Africa’s hinterland to the Atlantic World.”[2] Lagos went from a locus of regional trade in the eastern Bight of Benin to a primary international port of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Meanwhile, the institution of slavery moved from the margins of Lagosian society to became a major influence on its politics.[3]

Before the 1500s, the lagoon of Lagos was settled by a group of Yoruba-speaking migrants from Isheri called the Awori. The Awori intermarried with earlier inhabitants and later lived alongside the settlements of other Yoruba-speaking immigrant groups like Aja and Ijebu. They were led by a ruler called the olófin, and they traced their heritage to the ancient city-state of Ile-Ife. Portuguese sailors became the first Europeans to trade in the lagoon area around 1500. It was them who gave Lagos its name, derived from the Portuguese word for lake. In the second half of the sixteenth century, Lagos was occupied by an Edo-speaking military expedition from Benin City in the east. By 1682, Lagos had officially become as a royal province of the Kingdom of Benin, complete with its own dynastic, oligarchic, and administrative structure. Nonetheless, Lagos became “largely autonomous by the eighteenth century.”[4] Although European traders had periodically visited Lagos during the seventeenth century, they would not begin coming regularly until the 1760s. Slave exports from Lagos were minimal throughout the eighteenth century, but they soared during the first fifty years of the nineteenth century. Between 1800 and 1850, Lagos emerged as the largest exporter of slaves from the Bight of Benin and then the leading port north of the equator.[5] Continue reading “Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Bights of Benin and Biafra”

Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Slave Coast

ROBIN LAW. First half of Ouidah: The Social History of a West African Slaving ‘Port,’ 1727-1892. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004. The first half covers the eighteenth century, 1-154.

SILKE STRICKRODT. “In Search of a Moral Community: Little Popo and the Atlantic Trade in the Mid-Eighteenth Century,” Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, New Series, No. 14 (2012): 105-130.

Introduction

The readings for this week are the third in a series of four case studies about specific regions of West Africa in the eighteenth century. This third case study is on the “Slave Coast,” an area on the Gulf of Guinea that stretched from the River Volta in the west to the Lagos Channel in the east. This area comprised small portions of western Ghana and eastern Nigeria as well as all of modern-day Togo and Benin. The region is often known to historians as the Bight or Gulf of Benin, though sometimes the Slave Coast is described as the Bight’s western half. During the eighteenth century, the Slave Coast hosted a variety of European traders at its many coastal ports, like Jakin or Badagry in the east and Keta in the west. Danish, Dutch, English, French, and Portuguese traders all conducted business here with private individuals and representatives of African kingdoms like Dahomey and Little Popo. The readings assigned for this week are both secondary sources. They discuss two different parts of the coast. One is the first half of Robin Law’s monograph Ouidah: The Social History of a West African Slaving ‘Port.’ This half surveys the eighteenth-century history of Ouidah, a city near the shore of present-day Benin.[1] The other is an article on African-European trade relations at the port of Little Popo, which is today the town of Aného in the nation of Togo.

Silke Strickrodt’s “In Search of a Moral Community”

In his article, “In Search of a Moral Community,” historian Silke Strickrodt examines trading relations between European and African merchants at the port of Little Popo, which is situated on the Western Slave Coast in what is now the nation of Togo. Strickrodt examines these relations during the reign of Ashampo, who ruled the Ge Kingdom of Little Popo between the years of 1737 and 1767. Strickrodt approaches her subject by using the concept of the “moral community,” which she basically defines as a mutual, cross-cultural system of values that serves to stabilize commerce. In the “moral community,” traders establish a shared system of values, generally around a common binding principle like ethnicity, religion, or political allegiance. This system of values gives traders confidence that their contracts will be honored or guaranteed by the opposing party. It also creates a situation where traders are comfortable taking risks, like extending credit or opening permanent centers (known as “lodges” on the Western Slave Coast).[2] Alternatively, a “moral community” can be established by the presence of a strong and reliable intermediary, such as a centralized state. As Strickrodt explains, this was the case with other areas of West Africa. A notable example is further to the east, where the Kingdoms of Dahomey, Oyo, and eventually Bonny operated.[3]

But Strickrodt argues that Little Popo is a peculiar trading center. She concludes that, even though “there was no effective ‘moral community’ between African and European traders at Little Popo in the period of Ashampo’s reign,” European merchants continued to do business there.[4] Her main research question is, then, how can historians explain the continuance of trade at Little Popo despite the absence of traditional mechanisms for ensuring trust among trading partners? As a king, Ashampo neither guaranteed the sanctity of contract nor cultivated an environment of trust; rather, he engaged in a short-term strategy of ripping-off European traders, playing them off one another, and otherwise deceiving them. Meanwhile, the particular geographic makeup of the Western Slave Coast meant that European traders needed to come on shore to do business. As a result, they were ever at the mercy of the African traders with whom they negotiated. They were periodically taken captive, robbed, killed, or swindled. Nonetheless, Strickrodt argues that European traders continued to do business at Little Popo because it presented a “high-risk – high-reward environment” in an era of heightened demand for slaves, increasing competition among European powers, and new demand for alternative sources of procuring slaves. Despite the myriad difficulties posed by Little Popo, Europeans could occasionally depend on Ashampo for a quick boatload of slaves.[5] Continue reading “Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Slave Coast”

Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Gold Coast

MARGARET PRIESTLEY. “The Ashanti Question and the British: Eighteenth-Century Origins,” Journal of African History 2, No. 1 (1961): 35-59.

ANN BOWER STAHL. Chapter VI of Making History in Banda: Anthropological Visions of Africa’s Past (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Chapter VI is called “The Changing Social Fields of Banda Villagers, c. 1725-1825,” 148-188.

Introduction

The readings for this week are the second in a series of four case studies on specific regions of West Africa in the eighteenth century. This second case study is on the Gold Coast, an area that roughly corresponds to the present-day nation of Ghana. Situated on the Gulf of Guinea, between what is today the nations of Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, Ghana comprises approximately 350 miles of coastline and extends for several hundred miles inland. During the eighteenth-century, this region was known to European traders as the Gold Coast.[1] It was slightly larger, extending eastward from the Komoe River in present-day Côte d’Ivoire to the Volta River. The region may have been home to more than forty separate sovereign polities.[2] These included centralized states, like the Ashanti, as well as coastal federations, like the Fante. Although Portuguese traders were the first Europeans to set up forts in the region in the late fifteenth century, the British and the Dutch were the primary European commercial powers throughout the 1700s.[3] The readings assigned for this week are secondary sources. One is an excerpt on the eighteenth century from Making History in Banda by the anthropological archaeologist Ann Bower Stahl. And the other is an article written by the historian Margaret Priestley that explores aspects of Gold Coast politics between 1765 and 1772.

Margaret Priestley’s “The Ashanti Question and the British”

In “The Ashanti Question and the British,” the historian Margaret Priestley investigates the years 1765 to 1772, what she refers to as an “early chapter in the history of the British relationship with Ashanti and Fante.”[4] Priesley sets up her piece by arguing that historians have paid too much attention to the year 1807. They have positioned 1807 as the origin of “a strong Anglo-Fante link” that served as a protection of commerce and as a bulwark against other powers, notably the Ashanti and the Dutch.[5] 1807 is significant because it was during that year that the Ashanti empire orchestrated an invasion of the coast and compelled the resident leaders of British stations, like the factory at Anomabu, to openly declare their support for the Fante confederation.[6] While Priestley does not deny the importance of this 1807 event, she argues that it should not be interpreted as the beginning of the Anglo-Fante alliance. Rather, agents of the official British Company of Merchants had been “actively involved in the Ashanti question long before” 1807.[7] Moreover, both the Councilmembers and the Governors of the major British factories—Case Coast Castle, Anomabu, Fort James—had articulated their plans to support the Fante and oppose what they perceived as a Dutch-Ashanti alliance several times before. As Priestley demonstrates, the politics of 1807 had forerunners during Ashanti coastal invasions or invasion scares that took place in 1765, 1767, and 1772.[8]

The strength of this article is in how Priestly explores the politics of the eighteenth-century Gold Coast from a variety of angles. She shows us how the powerful inland empire of the Ashanti, led by the Asantehene Osei Kojo in the 1760s, wants to break their dependence upon the Fante as middleman of the Atlantic trade. This ambition leads the Ashanti into conflict with various coastal states, like Wassaw and Akim, that control the western and eastern trading routes from the Ashanti capital at Kumasi. It also leads them into conflict with the Fante—a “coastal coalition” to use the term coined by the historian Rebecca Shumway—whose republic lies on the doorstep of the British and Dutch factories.[9] On the one hand, British actors back in the metropole, like the Committee of the Company of Merchants and the Board of Trade and Plantations, advocates a position of neutrality with all native powers and collaboration with the Dutch in settling any dispute. On the other hand, British actors on the ground in the Gold Coast advocate for a position of preserving the Fante republic against what they understand as a more-autocratic, and thus less amenable to negotiation, Ashanti Empire. This position is strengthened by the fact that Dutch interests, based out of Elmina, have been secretly encouraging an Ashanti takeover of the coast since the 1760s. Throughout this article, Priestley demonstrates how all of these interests converged before the 1807 event.[10] Continue reading “Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Gold Coast”

Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Senegambia Region

BOUBACAR BARRY. Part II of Senegambia and the Atlantic Slave Trade. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Part II is called “Senegambia in the Eighteenth Century: the Slave Trade, Ceddo Regimes, and Muslim Revolutions,” 55-126.

MICHAEL GOMEZ. “Bundu in the Eighteenth Century,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1987): 61-73.

Introduction

The readings for this week are the first in a series of four case studies about specific regions of West Africa in the eighteenth century. The first case study is on Senegambia, an area that encompasses parts of the present-day nations of Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Historically, the Senegambian area is somewhat ambiguous. Some historians refer to the area between the Senegal and Gambia Rivers as Senegambia, while others make a distinction between this area, which they call northern Senegambia, and the region south of the Gambia River, which they variously define as southern Senegambia, the “Southern Rivers,” or the “Rivers of Guinea” and Sierra Leone.[1] Occasionally, scholars refer to the entire region as the “Upper Guinea Coast.” Other times, they deploy that term more exclusively for southern Senegambia.[2] The readings assigned for this week are secondary sources. One is an excerpt about the eighteenth century from the historian Boubacar Barry’s survey Senegambia and the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the other is an article written by the historian Michael Gomez about the polity of Bundu in northern Senegambia. I will briefly discuss Gomez’s piece before proceeding to Barry’s.

Michael Gomez’ “Bundu in the Eighteenth Century”

In “Bundu in the Eighteenth Century,” the historian Michael Gomez traces the history of a single polity in the Senegambia region from roughly 1698 to 1790. This polity is Bundu. According to oral tradition, it was founded by a Torodbe cleric named Malik Sy in 1698, and it was ruled by his descendants, called the Sissibe, until it was dismantled by the French in 1905.[3] Gomez argues that the eighteenth century was a crucial era of Bundu’s development, “for it was during this period that Bundu emerged from an obscure grouping of villages [scattered in the upper Senegal valley] into a sovereign government of some significance.”[4] Gomez narrates the history of Bundu largely through the reigns of its various leaders (known as elimans and later almaamis), with the objective of establishing a more-reliable chronology for Bundu’s evolution. He concludes that the watershed administration is that of the expansionist  Maka Jiba, a grandson of the kingdom’s founder. “It was under Maka Jiba,” Gomez observes, “that the commercial nature of Bundu was established, as well as the military tradition necessary to maintain and expand control of trade.”[5] Equally important to understanding Bundu’s eighteenth-century history is the over two-decade reign of Amadi Gai, one of Maka Jiba’s sons. Amadi Gai presided over an Islamic reform movement in Bundu after facing external pressure from the centralized Islamic states of Futa Jallon and Futa Toro.[6]

Gomez draws several broad conclusions from his research into Bundu that are worth noting in a discussion of the Senegambia region. First, Gomez proclaims that “the attempt to control trade of the upper Senegal valley became the chief concern of every government in the region” throughout the eighteenth century.[7] In practice, this belief means that Senegambian trade routes lay at the center of the region’s history. One cannot engage with Bundu’s history without accounting for the history of various other polities and peoples. These include the English and French presences upon the Gambia and Senegal Rivers, the presence of raiding Moroccan and Mauritian armies, the Malinke villages along the Falémé River, the interior towns of Bambuk, the neighboring communities in Galaam, and the centralized and powerful states of Futa Jallon and Futa Toro. As Gomez demonstrates, for example, Bundu’s political and military exploits are intimately connected to these latter states through ancestral lineages. These states had the ability to sway the outcome of military conquest in Bundu through their leaders’ decisions to sanction or withhold support. Likewise, Gomez’ thesis about trade leads him to imply an argument about the nature of conquest in the Senegambian region. Though religion played a crucial role in Bundu’s eighteenth-century development, historians should not be so eager to label regional wars as jihad. A closer look at the campaigns of Maka Jiba, for instance, reveal that “economic considerations outweighed religious affinity.”[8] Continue reading “Case Studies of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — The Senegambia Region”

Surveys of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — A Classic Work by Philip D. Curtin

PHILIP D. CURTIN. The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1850, Vol. I. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1964.[1]

Introduction

The primary reading for this week is The Image of Africa. It is a classic study by the historian Philip D. Curtin about British ideas and action related to West Africa from 1780 to 1850. This is also the first in a series of two weeks that will focus on British perceptions of Africa in the early-modern era. Published in 1964, The Image of Africa belongs to a generation of works that emerged during the professionalization of African History in the 1950s and early 1960s. As David William Cohen, Stephan Miescher, and Luise White explain in the introduction to their 2001 edited volume, African Words, African Voices, the field of African History had its precedents, however, it emerged as an academic discipline “after the Second World War, when Europeans and Africans were awakening to nationalist rhetoric from many arenas across the continent and the world.”[2] It was in this era of African decolonization, when a host of new researchers were starting to study contemporary African cultures, that Curtin turned his attention to the years before 1850. What he discovered was a relative Golden Age of interest in African societies on par with his present generation. “Relative to their knowledge of the world in general,” Curtin explains, “eighteenth-century Europeans knew more and cared more about Africa than they did at any later period up to the 1950s.”[3] Building off of this initial observation, The Image of Africa seeks not only to explain Britain’s remarkable interest in Africa before 1800, but also to trace its hardening and decline by the 1850s.

Before I discuss some of the ways that The Image of Africa contributes to eighteenth-century African History, it would be helpful to outline both the scope and the thesis of the book. Curtin breaks The Image of Africa into three distinctive parts that correspond to major developments in Britain’s ideas about the continent. The first part focuses on British views of Africa and Africans in the eighteenth century, and it is entitled “The ‘New World’ of Eighteenth Century Africa.”[4] The second part is entitled “The Age of Exploration and Disappointment,” and it covers the years between 1795 and 1830.[5] Finally, the third part is entitled “The Age of Humanitarianism.” It stretches from about 1830 to 1850.[6] Afterward, in a two-page postscript, Curtin shares his conclusions about “the most striking aspect of the British image of Africa in the early nineteenth century.”[7] He argues that detachment from “African reality, as we now understand it” is the common denominator that underlies all British ideas about Africa during the period of this study. Whether approaching Africa through a discourse of “medicine, race, history, or political and economic development,” European authors manufactured the image of Africa from within a European worldview and largely “to suit European needs.” By the 1850s, this image had hardened into a series of racial and cultural stereotypes. This stagnation was the defining feature of Britain’s attitude toward Africa during the age of imperialism and the colonial era, until it began to change once again in the 1950s.[8] Continue reading “Surveys of West African History in the Eighteenth Century — A Classic Work by Philip D. Curtin”

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